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Book Review: Futile Efforts – Author Tom Piccirilli


Futile Efforts
By Tom Piccirilli
Published: 2010
Publisher: Cemetery Dance Publications
Cost: $40

“The dog is chewing into his chest, about to crack through the breastbone and get to the thick meat of his heart inside. Lash took the little bastard in because it was shivering under an abandoned Chevy with six saturated tickets beneath a busted wiper, rain sluicing off the hood and running high in the gutter. Three distended bodies stacked face down in the backseat. The dog there with its tiny front paw held up- offering it out to Lash like, oh please take me home, look how cute I am, my name is Iwuvyou. Lash has tried this with girls in bars and they usually just scowl at him, move a few stools down.

Talk about loyalty. Now Iwuvyou’s snout-deep in your torso, tail wagging like crazy, wippity-wappity.”

From “Making Faces”

Sometimes, blind luck favors you with a book that you need, precisely at the time you need it most. I received Futile Efforts not long before getting smacked in the face with a minor personal tragedy, which means precisely jack all to you. What matters is the power of Tom Piccirilli’s writing, his ability to see the grief and loss of everyday life, grab it ripping and tearing out of us and lay it bear and bleeding on the page. I cried while reading this. Not leaking a few sympathy tears, but outright wailing into the merciless black sky. Then the magic happens, right before my eyes, as he molds that anguish into a thing of brilliant, transcendent beauty, bearing soft hints of hope on the breeze. Correct words do not exist in the English language to convey what this man does to the human spirit.

Fans will find bits of damn near every genre and style this prolific and varied gentleman has dabbled in (no small feat for someone who has written not one, but two gothic noir westerns). Have you been missing his older, more arcane stylings a la A Lower Deep? Look no further than his entrancing entry from Leisure Press’ Four Dark Nights, “Jonah Arose”. Those with a hankering for the soul crushing morbidity of A Choir of Ill Children have tales like “Thin Skin of the Soul Worn Away” awaiting them. I need not bother mentioning the presence of some good old hard-boiled and grittier than a Texan dust storm crime fiction like the unstoppable “Fuckin Lie Down Already”.

Then there is “Jesus Wrestles the Mob to Feed the Homeless”, an SF crime-noir amalgamation that is everything that bizarro aims for, but, unlike most bizarro I’ve read, manages to pull off the absurd, sublime and all out bannafish craziness in a way that feels natural as a part of the context in which it occurs. Or “Alchemy”, the most singularly f*cked up story I have read to date. The physical events aren’t what messed me up (as a veteran of Ed Lee at his worst, I’m fairly inured to that), but the mental and emotional environment in which they occur create something the most Hardcore of writers never approached. And “These Strange Lays” is an oddly rapturous embrace of the simple joys of chaos and sex with crazy people.

In addition to that, I can’t tell you how happy I am that they included so much of his poetry (45 poems selected from his three previous anthologies). As a poet, Tom’s voice is deceptively clear and accessible, spinning concise vignettes full of the same emotional force as his fiction but possessing a depth that is belied by his no nonsense style. For instance, “It Knows So Much Than Me” is an oddly engaging conversation between a man and the c**kroach on his chest but a peek under the sheets will reveal a meditation on the shared nature of guilt and grief that can build bridges between incompatible beings. Besides, if you aren’t drawn in by titles like “How to make it Through Friday Night Without Biting Your Tongue in Two”, then you aren’t worth talking to.

Honestly, at this point in his career, if you are questioning the purchase of a mammoth book of Piccirilli’s short prose and poetry spanning from 2000 to 2005, then you might want to read one of his fantabuloso novels before dropping forty bucks on this puppy. Fans should already have a few drops in their pants.

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